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Neighbors Used My Property as Their Own (11 Steps to Take)

Having a friendly relationship with your neighbors is ideal. But let’s face it – disputes and disagreements sometimes happen. In fact, according to one survey, 36% of Americans have had issues with their neighbors that escalated into full-blown arguments.

One common area of contention? Property encroachment.

This could involve a neighbor building a fence that crosses onto your land, repeatedly cutting through your yard, or otherwise using your property as if it’s their own. Understandably, this type of boundary disregard can make your blood boil.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to deal with a neighbor who encroaches on your property. This blog outlines 11 recommended actions to stop boundary trespasses while preserving some civility between you and the neighbors. With the right approach, you can defend your rights without ending up in an all-out war.

1. Understand your property rights

Before doing anything else, get familiar with the property laws in your area.

Property rights and regulations can vary significantly depending on where you live. For example, some states allow adverse possession, meaning a neighbor could potentially claim ownership of part of your land if they openly occupy it for a certain period of time.

I know it’s not the most exciting homework, but take the time to learn about boundaries, easements, trespassing, and liability where you live.

Consult with a local real estate attorney if you need help navigating the legalities. They can advise you on the laws and your options.

Knowing your property rights upfront will empower you to take the appropriate action to protect your land.

It also prevents you from making any missteps as you try to rectify the encroachment issue with your neighbors.

2. Communicate with your neighbors

Now that you know your rights, it’s time to chat with your neighbors. I know, easier said than done, right?

But open communication should always be your first move in situations like these.

Set up a friendly, in-person discussion and calmly explain your concerns. Even if the encroachment seems obvious to you, there’s a chance your neighbors don’t realize they’re crossing boundaries literally and figuratively.

Give them the benefit of the doubt initially.

Say something like:

“Hey Dan and Sarah, got a quick second to chat? I wanted to touch base about the new fence you put up last month. According to the survey we had done last year, it looks like a portion of it is actually sitting on our property. I’m sure it was just an honest mistake since property lines can be confusing, but I’d appreciate if we could rectify it.”

The key is to remain casual, positive, and solution-oriented. You want to avoid putting them on the defensive right off the bat or making accusations.

Propose working together to resolve the issue in a way that works for everyone.

With reasonable neighbors, that may be all it takes. But if they insist the fence, garden, or whatever is entirely on their land, move on to documenting the boundaries so you have clear evidence.

We’ll get to that next.

3. Verify your property boundaries

If chatting doesn’t resolve the issue, it’s time to confirm exactly where your lines are drawn.

Dig up your original property deed and any existing survey documentation. Review the boundary descriptions and measurements closely.

If the encroaching structure clearly extends past the stated boundaries, use this evidence to reinforce your position with your neighbor.

Show them the docs if needed.

But if there is any uncertainty or dispute about the boundary locations, you may need to book a professional survey to make it official. Hire a licensed surveyor to come out and place boundary markers on your actual property corners and lines.

This may cost a few hundred bucks, but it’s worth it for the authoritative clarity.

Once completed, the new survey will be legally defensible documentation of your property limits.

Pro Tip: If possible, go with the same surveying company that did your original plot. They will have that baseline data for reference.

With the official boundaries marked and documented, approach your neighbors again if the encroachment continues.

Be gentle but firm in pointing out they are still crossing legal lines. This will often convince them to remove the shed, fence, or whatever from your property without things getting nasty.

4. Review your property insurance

Before things escalate further, dig out your property insurance policy and give it a thorough read.

You’re looking for any sections related to property disputes, boundary encroachments, and liability protections.

For example, some homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for legal assistance and court costs related to property line conflicts. Your insurer may even step in directly to resolve the issue on your behalf.

At a minimum, notify your insurance company of the situation just to get it on their radar. They will know all the nuances of your specific policy and whether it applies.

If you do have relevant coverage, the insurer may be able to give you an official claim number for the incident that you can reference in further communications with the neighbor. This shows you are documenting matters and underscores that you are serious about enforcing your property rights.

Of course, no one wants things to reach a boiling point, but it’s good to understand all avenues available to you if your neighbor continues to disregard your boundaries.

5. Send formal written notice

If your neighbor remains uncooperative after reviewing the property lines together, it’s time to put things in writing.

Send them an official letter stating you do not consent to them using your property.

Clearly spell out the details of their encroachment and the steps you’ve taken to rectify it so far. Provide copies of the deed, surveys, insurance documents, or any other proof that you are in the right.

Close the letter by giving a firm deadline for them to remove their shed/fence/junk from your property.

Two weeks is standard. Let them know you will pursue further legal action if the encroachment continues past the deadline.

Sending a formal notice shows you are very serious about enforcing your rights. It also creates a paper trail documenting the issue in case things do end up in court down the road.

Always send the letter by certified mail and keep a copy for yourself.

I know the idea of legal action with a neighbor seems scary. But dying these i’s and crossing the t’s now can prevent much bigger hassles later on if they try to claim part of your land as theirs.

6. Build a boundary fence

If your neighbor ignores your written notice and continues using your property, it’s time for a physical barrier. Invest in some fencing and post it right along the property line marked by your survey.

Make sure the fencing does not itself encroach onto your neighbor’s land, as ironic as that sounds. You want to take the moral and legal high ground here.

Constructing a clear boundary fence accomplishes a few things:

  • It provides a visible deterrent and physically blocks them from continuing to trespass on your land.
  • It establishes a new status quo of defined property lines that your neighbor will need to consciously breach if encroachment continues.
  • It demonstrates you are very serious about defending your land rights.

I know building a big fence seems extreme. But it may be the only way to prevent ongoing encroachment problems, especially with difficult neighbors.

If they destroy or remove your fence, document it thoroughly. Also, file a police report for vandalism and property damage.

With the paper trail you’ve created, you will have ample evidence to take legal action if needed.

7. Post warning signs

In conjunction with building a physical barrier, it doesn’t hurt to put up some exterior signage as well.

Place highly visible “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs along the fence line. You can also mark the actual corner boundaries with stakes that say “Property Line.”

These signs establish clear visual evidence of where your land starts and ends. They make it obvious to any neighbors (and their guests) that your property is off-limits.

You may even want to cite the specific trespassing laws in your area just to underscore you know your rights.

Of course, signs aren’t an absolute deterrent, but they do provide helpful reinforcement of the property boundaries. And, like the fence, they show you are very serious about defending your land.

At night, you can even install motion-sensor lights pointed at the signs. This way, any encroachers after dark will be illuminated along with a nice visible reminder that they are on your property!

8. Install security cameras

At this point, you’ve likely made it abundantly clear to your neighbor that you don’t want them encroaching on your land. However, some people simply won’t get the message.

If the fence, signs, and warnings haven’t stopped them, it’s time to document their behavior. Install security cameras pointed directly at your property lines and any vulnerable areas.

Capture video evidence if they hop the fence, tear down signage, or continue trespassing in any other way. Make sure the footage clearly shows them crossing the boundaries you’ve established.

Let your neighbors know they are being filmed. And if possible, have the camera timestamps visible so the video documentation will hold up in court if needed.

Documenting their encroachment is useful for several reasons:

  • It proves they are intentionally ignoring your requests and warnings to stay off your property.
  • It strengthens your case if you need to pursue legal action like a restraining order.
  • It may deter their behavior once they realize they can’t sneak around undetected.

The cameras probably won’t make you the most popular person on the block. But sometimes collecting evidence is the only path forward with a persistently uncooperative neighbor.

9. Involve your homeowners’ association

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), don’t forget to loop them into the situation as well.

Chances are your HOA has rules and bylaws related to property usage, boundaries, and disputes between neighbors. They may even restrict certain types of fences or signage.

Review your HOA covenants to see what they say about encroachment issues.

Even if they don’t directly address your specific scenario, it can’t hurt to file a formal complaint regarding your neighbor’s behavior.

The HOA will likely send a representative to inspect the situation firsthand. They may provide a neutral perspective and carry more weight in resolving the conflict, especially if legal action could make the entire neighborhood look bad.

At the very least, having a formal complaint on file creates a paper trail in case persistent issues with your neighbor continue. It shows you are following the proper channels to resolve the problem.

Of course, HOAs have their downsides, too.

Just make sure you know their rules backward and forward so they can’t hit you with any violations for how you fence, sign, or surveil your own property.

10. Attempt mediation

At this stage in the process, tensions with your neighbor are likely running high. Before jumping straight to legal action, consider mediation as an alternative resolution.

Mediation provides a structured process for both parties to discuss the dispute and explore possible compromises with an impartial third-party mediator. The mediator helps facilitate the conversation but does not impose a binding decision.

The goal is for you and your neighbor to mutually agree on a resolution that satisfies both of your needs and perspectives. This could include moving the fence a few feet back from the property line, providing an easement for them to access part of your yard, or simply agreeing to amicably co-exist.

Even if mediation doesn’t solve everything, it can help open up communication, prevent lingering resentment, and potentially save enormous headaches and costs down the road.

Look for local mediation services or ask your real estate attorney for referrals. Many communities offer low-cost neighborhood mediation programs specifically for property disputes.

11. Seek legal action

If all else fails, the last resort is taking your neighbor to court over the property encroachment.

You may need to get an injunction to order them to cease their trespassing behavior immediately. Or file a lawsuit seeking monetary damages for any losses their encroachment caused you.

The exact legal avenues available depend heavily on the laws and precedents in your jurisdiction. Your real estate attorney can advise which options make the most sense for your specific situation.

Lawsuits should always be a last option when dealing with neighbors.

But sometimes obtaining a court order demanding the removal of their shed or fence is the only way to finally resolve the issue.

Make sure you have extensively documented the entire attempted resolution process up to this point, including all surveys, communications, warnings, mediation attempts, etc.

The more evidence you have, the better.

No one wants things to reach the level of lawsuits with their neighbors. But protecting your property rights sometimes requires legal action when all else fails.

Conclusion

Dealing with neighborly encroachment is never fun. Boundary disputes can escalate quickly and turn once-friendly relationships sour.

But don’t despair – take the situation step-by-step. Start with communication, verification, and warnings.

Build barriers, both literal and legal.

Document issues if they persist. Mediate when possible. And know your rights to take formal action when needed.

With patience and principles, you can defend your property while preserving peace in the neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to assert your boundaries clearly and enforceably.

But also look for compromises and creative solutions if available.

Your land is your castle – protect it accordingly.

But also be willing to build bridges when able. With a balanced approach, you can resolve encroachment issues while maintaining community.

Zebedee Nambaleo
Zebedee Nambaleo

Zebedee is the founder of RealEstate Ke. He creates content by carefully examining and analyzing the real estate market, home improvement resources, and government data. His analysis is based on the principle of supplying high-quality, relevant, and in-depth information to his audience. By evaluating the current conditions and predicting future trends, he provides his audience with invaluable insights that allow them to make better decisions.